CitizenReporter (aka Joe Hutchison) is a writer of prose (essayist) and published political commentary (home site) also featured at:
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Social Networking Sites

Social Networking Sites:
Are You the User or the Used?
   Have you recently had your search page, your homepage, or any other Internet settings changed on your computer without your knowledge or consent? Does you Internet browser now have all those extra tool bars on it that you didn't "ask" for? Has you computer slowed down recently, or over time? Are you getting unwanted pop ups more than you used to? Or are you getting more and more warnings from your antispyware or antivirus programs? Is software mysteriously appearing on your computer, then remaining there after you thought you uninstalled or otherwise got rid of it? If you answered yes to any of these questions
"Your computer may be at risk!   Click here to...."
   Does that look familiar too? If so don't bite down on that hook! The best flat tire fixers in the world are the very ones throwing nails on the highway. And the best spyware, malware, and virus writers and spreaders on the Internet are the ones offering to help you. And these vultures have found a new haven. A megalopolis of the most naive and inexperienced computer users to latch on to and infest. They no longer need to prowl the web for individual targets. The public lines up for them at "social networking" sites - like Twitter, Facebook, and many more. Not just with their knowledge but with their consent and help.
   To understand why and how it works a reminder from eighth grade economics class might be in order. It's all about the money honey. The dollar king is in charge. How does Facebook, Twitter, and all the other social networking sites make their money? Didn't you ever even wonder about that? They are free, yes?
Oh sure, some of them have a few ads floating around on their sites and pages. But that only generates small amounts of money, unless a massive amount of computer users actually click on those ads. Do you have any idea of the enormous costs in hosting and serving millions of users worldwide? Plus, a lot of more experienced users completely block ads and pop ups. And the advertisers know this. So, I pose the question again: How do the social networking sites make the big bucks necessary to remain "free" services for millions of users?
   To start with let's replace the term 'social networking sites' with 'Facebook'. But understand this is for simplicity's sake; they are by no means alone in this process. And we'll use the Bing search site as an example cohort - since they, in fact, are. All the sites started the same way. Totally free and free of ads. To build up their user database. Once they have sufficient numbers of members, they turn on the make money button. Here's how it works.
Bing builds an application disguised as a harmless game, widget, or "application" then pays Facebook to promote it through interaction between its users or members. When a user clicks the application or link they access a game, or survey, or IQ test, or "accept a drink" or "smile" or whatever the hook may be. The results then get texted or emailed to user accounts or phones which were given unsuspectingly by those very users. And aren't they just so fun! But here's what happened - in the background. On the dark side.
   First, a massive database is created from all those phone numbers and email addresses. They are then sold, in bulk, to solicitors, spammers, insurance companies, online colleges, and virtually anyone else that wants said information. This is why you keep getting all that spam in your email, and all those phone calls from people and businesses you never reached out to. But that's not the extent of it.
   The big money collaborators like Bing pay a fee to Facebook with both knowing that somewhere during the process a browser hook object (BHO), also known as a browser hijack object is installed on your computer. You may or may not be "asked" if you want that cool new tool bar with all those "useful" links, but they are often installed even if you select the "no thanks" option. Regardless, you now have a new home page, start page, search engine page, or whatever. Bing and Facebook then share the revenues created by the computer users using these new pages or sites. Both then readily offer you links to "clean your computer" because it is "at risk" and "running slower" than it used to. They get you coming and going. You are a rat in a maze and don't even know it. But ignorance is not bliss. These intrusions, add ons, and unsolicited software do impede your computer's speed and performance.
   These hijacks and programs singularly and alone don't hurt your computer's performance too bad. Until they start to add up. A single game, drink, or application can infest you with up to 100 traces of unwanted malware. That might sound like a lot, but it's not really. But if you get sucker punched (sucker clicked might be a better term) enough, and on a regular basis, you can get thousands of traces reported by your PC's security software. And that high a level of infestation will slow down your PC. But don't worry, they will promote the cure. Just "click here"... and the cycle repeats itself. Some of the fee-based anti-spyware programs they promote will even tag their applications as safe. Then it's really hard to get rid of them.
   So what do you do? Do you stop using Facebook or whatever social networking sites you use? No need. First of all such an act all by itself will not make you safe. Other sites use similar ploys. In fact I use Facebook, but only "to be seen" by old friends and others that might be trying to find me. I interact elsewhere - where it's safe. All you need to do is be smart. When you go to a mechanic and he tells you that you need $1800 of work and you can't understand what he's talking about, do you just throw your credit card up on the counter and ask when your car will be ready? If a doctor tells you need a $10,000 operation to cure an ill you didn't even know you had or you'll die in a week, do you jump up on the table and say cut me? Of course not. You do research. You investigate. You become more educated and informed. And that's what you need to do with your social networking site. You've already started. You're here.
   Don't take my word for any of this. Google (don't Bing) terms like BHO, browser hooks, browser hijacking, and use the 'advanced search' button to search for phrases like "how do free sites make money" and so forth and so on. And once you've swallowed the red pill and see how sites make their money, simply sidestep the tar pits that you can suddenly see. Use social networking sites to connect with old and lost friends, and interact with them daily without getting eaten alive by Internet parasites. Don't click that button to "share a (virtual) drink" and play their game. Send your friend an invitation to meet and share a real drink. And show your IQ by NOT clicking that link for an IQ test that requires your phone number, email address, or downloading an executable (.exe) file. And for goodness sakes run some good antispyware and antivirus software once or twice a week to keep your PC clean, safe, and fast. I could recommend and even supply links to the ones I use, namely Comodo Internet Security, SUPERAntiSpyware, and Spyware Blaster. But you should research and review them for yourself to see if they are right for you. All three have highly effective FREE versions. They are all I use, and I am a heavy Internet user. Did I mention I have not had a virus or case of serious spyware or malware in more than three years? And my two year old computer never ever crashes and is as fast today as the day I bought it. Can you say that?
   Use you social networking site to your benefit. Don't get used for theirs.

1 comment:

  1. you definitely need to be aware that the internet brings the big bad wolf right inside your house.that's why you have to be smart-by educating all the small aware of "strangers" wanting you to come and talk to them(or play their game).don't click it if you don't know whether you should or still see the world as beautiful and therefore have no fear.adults should know to be leery of hidden dangers out there.but some things we are naturally drawn to.that's why we need back-up/big brother/virus protection.not something that seeks you out and gives you what it wants you to have.but something that YOU have researched and decided is the best for you.and USE it!listen to it! take it's advice!and having a friend/relative who you can go to for advice is invaluable!and for the record,i love just have to understand that if you freely put anything about you or yours on the internet,then it's out there in the big bad world-for anybody to play safe.and you can STILL have fun!